Harold Baker, born towards the end of of the 19th century, grandfather of Rolland Baker of Iris Global ‘renown’, wrote a number of inspiring books, including his autobiography Under His Wings and an account of the remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a group of impoverished, uneducated Chinese orphan boys, Visions from beyond the Veil.
As a prelude to discussing these two books, it is probably important to point out the family connection. Baker saw what to staid traditional eyes might seem remarkable things both in the US before he went to China and then in his adopted country, and it is in his reports of these things that, for me at least, the books have their particular strength. I have a friend who, for his own reasons, is suspicious about ‘Toronto’, the impact of meetings in the church there which spread around the world. Anyone familiar with the ministry of Iris and founders Heidi and Rolland Baker will be aware of the important role in their lives of those meetings; events in grandfather Baker’s book show a remarkable continuity, even to the point of HA having himself been touched by God in the same city of Toronto many decades previously. I found the two books discussed here thoroughly helpful about dramatic ‘manifestations’ of the Holy Spirit and among other things think it would be a good book for those who are doubtful about such things to read. An outline of the contents follows.
Baker spent his childhood on a farm in Ohio, desperately poor and desperately hard working. He wasn’t a strong boy but work on the farm was unremitting; he makes a great deal of the virtue of perseverance, of keeping going to the very end, of overcoming every obstacle by persistence. He learned this behind a plough, day after day after day, and on the personal side this persistent persevering is the key to his life.
They went to church, but Baker was 19 before anyone told him that he needed personal contact with Christ. He prayed – in the barn; he was born again. He had received what education he could and had been able actually to teach school, but it was very much a country boy who arrived at college a couple of years later. He left behind his widowed mother and younger siblings at great cost. College he describes as a wilderness, in great part because not so many of the people there had had the experience he had in the barn; but he worked hard, did everything required of him and much more, holding every leadership position, so evidently he was or God made him very able, but learned little about the faith. He did however meet Josephine; perhaps, he says, that is why he went through what he otherwise regards as a waste of time. He mentions his ongoing struggle with ‘melancholy’, which would pull him back until he overcame – by persevering.
Although he had heard and accepted a challenge to be an overseas missionary he was first asked to go, after graduation, to a small, failing church in Buffalo, New York. He tells of what was really a miraculous, overcoming ministry which saw a tiny failing group in a very poor area grow into a thriving church. He fought off despair at being in a noisy city, and came to like it; severe discouragement about the work; and a ‘dictator’ within the church! They were there two years before the opportunity came to head to Tibet.
Before they could finally get to Tibet there were two years of languages study in east China; this again involved discouragement since the other missionaries were not what Baker would have wished. I like the fact that he found some refuge in the pursuit of ornithology; also during this time a son, James, was born. Eventually they made their way west; the accounts of travel are always of interest and the practical steps taken to build homes and grow food; there are nice passages about the basically miraculous growth of strawberries and a vine in unlikely places. There are also, through the book a number of times when there was sickness, for Josephine in particular, including the loss of 2 children. This might be a good place to say that the book is some 500 pages and that I found it hard to put down; the man’s trust in God is indeed infectious. Baker is always very sympathetic towards the people he lives among and basically had good success spiritually in Tibet before returning to the US after 8 years.
On returning to America, although Baker was able to do much good for his mother and siblings, he himself really hit rock bottom financially, but they went into business and he became really pretty successful; the important thing though was that now he received the Holy Spirit, initially by ‘faith’ he says, and some three months or so a wonderful experience with tongues. He had had perforce to leave his missionary society which was ‘drifting towards modernism’, but they made enough money and had grown to the point that they could head back to China and eventually to Yunnan and the Ka Do people, the centre of his life’s work.
First though, before the tribal work, there was a period among the Chinese in a regional centre. They settled in a prosperous but dangerous mining town. Baker became aware of boys who were being used and ruined in the mines and began to take them in, care for them and teach them. In this Adullam orphanage there was a tremendous ‘visitation’ of the Holy Spirit, recounted in detail in Visions from beyond the veil. The experiences of these entirely uneducated boys of being taken to heaven was something that would be duplicated among the Ka Do, but were particularly intense among the boys. From Baker’s point of view an important thing was to take his hands off and let the Holy Spirit do what he wished. The town changed and the influx of needy boys ceased and the time came to move on, into the mountains. Baker says repeatedly that his ministry was a pioneering one.
Certainly the longest section of the book is spent describing the many years of service among the Ka Do and other tribes. There are many wonderful descriptions and stories; we gain the impression of a great struggle, at times disheartening, but always coming through into blessing. Particularly the young people among the Ka do were ready for total commitment to Christ – this was Baker’s main intent; there was great openness to the Holy Spirit, and prophecy while in trances was frequent; there was also great physical and educational benefit too, prior to the coming of the Communists, the eventual cause of Baker having to leave. I won’t provide further details, but will quote from Baker about his personal struggles:
One of my greatest and most persistent difficulties in my work in KaDo Land was my despondency. My despondent disposition goes back almost to childhood, as I have said.
During the eight years Josephine was in America I was always lonesome and plagued by the spirit of depression. I do not mean that this discouraging had the victory, for I sometimes lived on mountain peaks, as my writing shows. Neither does it mean that I could never pray until the clouds of darkness rolled away, leaving a sunny sky. Yet this fight with depression has been life long and the fight is still on. It brings a sense of being absolutely worthless.
I suppose this is due in part to my natural disposition and probably due in no small measure to needless anxiety, but due mostly to devil power in our wrestling with the powers of the devil enthroned in the heavenly places. At the present time, I believe the Holy Spirit on some occasions has a part in causing us to see and feel that, as Paul says, there naturally dwells in us no good thing. We need to feel and know that we are naturally useless. We need humiliation.
As stated here, Josephine had returned to the US for health reasons, and they were separated for 8 years; Baker manages to make fairly light of this sacrifice though it was obviously keenly felt. Eventually he was forced out of China by the arrival of the Communists.
Baker was not just determined, but it would seem, through God’s power, quite indefatigable. There are two further fascinating episodes to come. The first was among the Navajo people of New Mexico with Baker again enjoying great blessing and then as a sort of gentle, benign swansong, he and Josephine moved to Formosa (Taiwan) where James had settled. The book closes with more fruitful ministry in a physically less demanding setting.
The book is a wonderful example of the power of God in a man’s life. Quite extraordinarily so in fact. Actually, I am hugely understating things – this wonderful book is probably the best (auto)biographical work I know, in part perhaps because his struggle with ‘despondency’ so relates to me. This is absolutely a must read!